Student guest post: Transitioning into understanding

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Zach Freshwater is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill double majoring in political science and reporting. He is a communications intern at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a communication consultant for Planetary Emissions Management.

What’s blue and white and has over 50 gender identity options? If you guessed Facebook, you’re right.

Last week the site announced that it will now offer users 56 choices to indicate their gender identity. The options range from male and female to transgender, gender questioning, androgynous and non-binary.

While the change might leave some confused when they join the site, Facebook’s move denotes an important shift toward recognizing transgender individuals. And journalists need to pay attention.

Earlier this month, Janet Mock, a transgender author and activist, appeared on “Piers Morgan Live” to discuss her new book about her life and struggles as a transgender woman. The interview went well, and both seemed cordial and excited about Mock’s work.

But the conversation went sour soon after the interview when Mock tweeted that she was disappointed in how Morgan discussed her identity. As a transgender woman, Mock took offense to Morgan’s statements that she was “formerly a man.”

Morgan fired back, and the Twitter conversation culminated in Mock returning to Morgan’s show to discuss the issue several days later.

While the clip above is a bit lengthy, it marks an important note for journalists: Be informed and be sensitive.

Transgendered individuals and their struggles are growing in national prominence, and journalists need to keep up. Understanding and acknowledging someone’s identity doesn’t indicate political affiliation — it denotes accuracy and respect.

GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) offers a media reference guidefor journalists covering transgender topics. The organization also offers a Transgender 101 guide that acts as an introduction to transgender identities and issues. Reading through these two guides only takes about 15 minutes and could prevent serious difficulty and embarrassment.

So, to all of the reporters, bloggers, editors and newsies out there, do your transgender homework. You’ll be better for it.